The Colts list T.J. Green as a strong safety yet started him at cornerback against the Rams in the season opener. Yet another curious decision for a team that had their 2017 first round pick CB Malik Hooker and 2nd round pick CB Quincy Wilson available to play.
Green was selected in the second round (57 overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft by former Colts GM Ryan Grisgon. Most draft experts and pundits were surprised by the pick as Green was ranked by many to go in a later round. In fact, ESPN’s draft expert Mel Kiper did not have him ranked in his top 10 safeties and CBSSports.com had him rated as the 229th best player in the draft.
Grigson bit on the potential and athleticism that Green flashed during the combine. He completed the 40-yard dash in an official time of 4.34 seconds, which was not only the fourth-fastest among all combine participants this year, but also the fastest on record for any safety since the combine implemented electronic timing in 1999. (Former Raiders Owner Al Davis would have approved of this pick).
When Green declared for the 2016 NFL draft after his junior year, some draft analysts suggested that he was making a mistake, that he should have returned to Clemson for his senior year. Even Dabo Swinney, Green’s coach at Clemson, said he “felt like T.J. needed to be back.”
Green started 4 games at safety for the Colts in 2016 while playing in all but one of their regular season games. He recorded 32 solo tackles, 11 assists, and 2 passes defensed for the year. Unfortunately, he spent most of the season missing tackles and chasing receivers and was graded 91st overall (out of 91 safeties) by Pro Football Focus (PFF); the lowest rated safety in the NFL for the season in both overall and coverage grades.
Head Coach Chuck Pagano and/or Defensive Coordinator Ted Monachino moved Green to CB midway through the 2017 preseason and inexplicably decided to take snaps away from their promising rookies to leave Green on the field against the Rams. He played 62 of the 65 snaps that the Colts defense was on the field compared to 30 for Hooker and 17 for Wilson. The position played was new but the results were the same; plenty of missed tackles and another horrible grade by PFF.
He has excelled in one area for the Colts though. In his 16 career games played, he leads the NFL with three running into the kicker penalties while playing special teams. Opposing receivers are hoping that Pagano keeps putting him on the field just waiting for all of that second-round potential to kick in.
On a positive note for the Colts defensive secondary, rookie CB Nate Hairston (fifth round pick) had a successful debut against the Rams. During his 40 defensive snaps played, he allowed just .35 yards per cover snap which ranked first amongst all rookie cornerbacks according to PFF.
His ability to shut-down the receivers he was matched with was even more note-worthy on a day that Rams QB Jared Goff picked apart the Colts secondary while recording career highs in every major statistical category.
Coach Bruce Arians brings his Cardinals to Lucas Oil this week and must be giddy implementing plays to exploit our lack of pressure and shoddy coverage. The learning curve is steep, but Hairston and fellow rookie cornerbacks Hooker and Wilson deserve to see more snaps to begin showing the Colts coaches and fans what the future looks like.
It is well documented that Colts starting QB Scott Tolzien had a very long outing against the Rams prior to being benched at the end of the third quarter. His final stat line of 9 completions in 18 attempts for 128 yards and 2 interceptions (returned for two Rams touchdowns) produced a final quarterback rating of 33.8.
For those of you that are not familiar (or interested) in the formula behind that rating, the following may put into better perspective how rotten his day actually was: a passer that goes 0-1 for no yards in a game produces a quarterback rating of 39.6! Colts players have actually achieved this feat 26 times including non-quarterbacks P Hunter Smith, P Rohn Stark, RB Lamont Warren, C Jeff Saturday, RB Lenny Moore, WR T.Y. Hilton, and P Pat McAfee.
From the obscure Colts records file: T.J. Rushing set the franchise single-season punt return record with an average of 13.1 yards per return in 2007. He just eclipsed the former mark of 12.9 yards established in 1989 by Clarence Verdin.
During that 2007 season, Rushing returned 19 punts for 249 yards highlighted by a 90-yard touchdown return against the Raiders. He was named the Week 15 AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for that long touchdown. That return was the 47th longest punt return in NFL history.
Rushing was drafted by the Colts in the seventh round (238th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft. He played in 6 games during his rookie season, but was not active for the Colts Super Bowl victory over the Bears. After his successful 2007 season, Rushing spent the entire 2008 season on the Injured Reserve list.
He returned to the field in 2009 but could not replicate his earlier success and averaged only 5.7 yards on 21 punt returns for the Colts. His final game as a Colt was in the loss to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV where he recorded zero yards on his lone punt return of the game.